President vows to correct 'years of neglect' of Amerindians
Stabroek News
September 4, 2001

Amerindian Heritage Month opened in style on Saturday with a well attended launching ceremony at the Umana Yana in Georgetown as President Bharrat Jagdeo pledged to correct the "years of neglect" suffered by the Amerindian hinterland communities.

"For a very long period in this country you would see that the regions in which Amerindian people live received very little funding and a lot of priority was placed on the coastal regions," he admitted in is feature address at the ceremony.

"Here in Guyana we are trying to make a difference and trying to correct the historical differentiation," he said, admittedly shying away from the word marginalisation.

"I wouldn't use the term marginalisation," he stated, before addressing the contentious issue of land rights.

"Let me take this opportunity to assure all the Amerindian communities," he said, "that contrary to what many of you have heard, my government is committed to having this issue resolved.

"Many people are confused about this and some of the confusion came about because of deliberate misrepresentations. I urge that you work along with the Minister [of Amerindian Affairs] and the ministry to ensure this process can go forward in an orderly way," he concluded, having described the problem as "probably the greatest concern among Amerindians."

The President also issued a warning to plundering international institutions who see helping Amerindian communities as an opportunity to create jobs and wealth for themselves.

"Today indigenous people and their issues are high on the agendas of the international institutions but we must be very vigilant because often international institutions are very fickle," he said.

"They often pay attention to issues that are en vogue at a particular point in time," he elaborated. "Once those issues fade then they lose interest in that and we must ensure, through vigilance and through our efforts, that the issue of indigenous people and their treatment around the world continue to remain high on the agenda of international institutions.

"I am willing to work with all the NGOs that have an interest in advocating and furthering the cause of Amerindian people genuinely, but I will not work with those NGOs that see advocacy on the behalf of Amerindian people as a business to create jobs and to get money for a few people."

The ceremony saw a number of cultural items including a prayer in Akawaio by Carnegie School of Home Economics student, Wendy John, a Chain Dance, a separate samba effort and a specially written song all performed by the Hinterland students - Amerindian youths studying in Georgetown. The audience was also treated to a Bird Dance by a Carib dance troupe from Dominica.

The President and the Minister for Amerindian Affairs, Carolyn Rodrigues, also had the privilege of receiving headdresses and various gifts, including embroidery, a miniature canoe, a bow and a fine walking stick.

In a brief speech, Rodrigues encouraged the Amerindian community to unite and begin to make their presence felt to a greater extent in the world.

"The future is now," she declared. "Let us prepare for our children and grandchildren just the way our ancestors would have made way for us, so that our children and grandchildren will shout loud praises for what will have achieved in our time.

"Brothers and sisters, we can only do this if there is unity regardless of our tribes, our political affiliation and our religious background. We are indigenous peoples and we will always be.

"It is never too late to unite. We have a lot of work to do and I can tell you I am ready. Let us prove to others [that] we are not a dependent people. To do this we must not see assistance as charity but rather an opportunity for us to better our lives.

"Let us commend those Amerindians who have been successful and let us use them as role models, rather than shut them out because they are now at a different level. To gain the recognition we desire, we must become more visible contributors in the various areas of our country's activities," she concluded.